What’s a girl to do to lift her spirits in the grey and dreary weather – why go and look at beautiful clothes of course! Not having the bank balance to peruse the best Bond Street has to offer (but with definite delusions of wardrobe grandeur) I headed instead for Somerset House and the Valentino: Master of Couture exhibition.
As soon as news of this exhibition hit the press I was dying to see it: How often does one have the chance to get up-close-and-personal with a whole gallery of haute couture gowns? Even more excitingly, the exhibition was rumoured to have a room devoted to showing how some of the couture techniques are achieved: Perfect for a sewing-geek like me!
The Valentino outfits in the exhibition span the designer’s whole career, from the 1950s through to Valentino’s retirement just a couple of years ago. The clothes are arranged down two sides of a long gallery at Somerset House, giving the illusion that the visitor is walking the catwalk with the mannequins looking on. The exhibits are grouped by style rather than decade, which I liked, although I’m annoyed at myself for not picking up on the fact that the mannequins were different colours depending on the decade of the ensemble it was displaying.
The catwalk display had one major advantage as far as I was concerned – there was no glass between the visitor and the clothes, which meant that you could really peer at the dresses from several angles, see the detail, and try to figure out the construction techniques. The minor disadvantage of the set-up is that you do have to go up and down a little bit, which on a narrow walkway in a fairly full exhibition can mean that there’s a bit of congestion here and there. It’s really only a minor inconvenience though.
And what of the clothes? It may be sacrilege to say it, but I did find some of the clothes ugly. (Yes, yes, I know – do I really think I know better than Valentino?!) On the otherhand, there was lots that was breathtakingly beautiful, and even dresses not to my taste were clearly put together with enormous skill.
It may be childish, but my favourite game at clothing exhibitions of any kind is ‘which dress would you take home if you could?’. My date (my niece) chose a beautiful bottle green ballgown covered it jet black beading from the Autumn/Winter 1997-8 collection (no. 106). Very briefly glimpsed at the end of this video:
For the me my take-home dress was no. 128 – a pink organza evening gown from Spring-Summer 2008, although it was a tough choice with all the beauties on display! Some of the work in the beaded numbers was absolutely breathtaking.
At the end of the exhibition it was wonderful to come out of the gallery and onto a staircase overlooking the MOST beautifully-made wedding dress. Looking down on it from above was perfect – you could admire the proportions of the gown and then descend to the same level to take in the detail.
Then to the techniques room: it was fascinating to watch some videos on the construction techniques and see some part-made examples of different techniques, particularly the ones unique to Valentino. I would have loved more of that – but of course they don’t want to give away all the secrets!
This video will give you a really good sense of the exhibition: Go go go!
If you’re intrigued and want to explore further, check out the virtual Valentino Garavani Museum. Or, head to Somerset House before the exhibition closes on 3 March 2013. You may see me there – I reckon its worth a second trip, with a sketchbook this time!